2012 marks the third year in a row we’ve experienced summer drought in central Indiana. With dry summers becoming the new norm, it’s more important than ever to be mindful of how we use water.
As we write this, Marion County is under a watering ban. Watering lawns is prohibited, and watering in the garden must be done by hand or with a hose rather than with garden sprinklers.
How can we make the most of the water we use?
1. Be realistic. Getting a lush, green garden under these conditions is not feasible. Our goal is to ensure plant survival and maximize the effectiveness of the water we have.
2. Prioritize. Water your trees and shrubs, which are the largest presence in your garden. The watering ban allows you to water trees once a week; we consider shrubs to be multi-stemmed trees, so we water them once a week as well. We also prioritize watering edible plants.
While we love our perennials and containers of annuals, replacing them is less expensive than replacing a maple tree that died from lack of water. Fill birdbaths, too; wildlife can use the extra help.
3. Leave it alone. Perennials that look dead may come back from the roots if given a chance. So cut brown, dead plants to the ground rather than pulling them out by the roots. Don’t fertilize, which can stress plants that are already freaked out by lack of water.
4. Water at the soil line. Watering overhead (with a sprinkler or by shooting water over the top of the plant) loses water to evaporation and encourages fungal disease. Sprinklers are prohibited by the watering ban.
5. Water when it’s cool. Cool is, of course, relative, but watering in the morning or evening reduces water lost to evaporation.
6. Mulch. Whether wood chips, straw, or compost, mulch helps soil conserve moisture. It has the added benefits of suppressing weeds and breaking down to enrich the soil, which in turn allows the soil to hold more moisture.
7. Rethink the garden. Take note this year of the plants that handle the drought. As you plan for the future, use plants that can take tough conditions. Where possible, group your plants together based on their watering needs. And consider installing rain barrels to help with future watering needs.
With forethought and common sense, you can have a garden that is both beautiful and waterwise.